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at the height of his creativity and the peak of his fame. the story was told that the pope himself wept at the news of his sudden death. as final tribute, raphael's last great painting, the transfiguration, was placed at the head of his coffin. the biographer giorgio vasari wrote... "when this admirable artist died, "painting also died. "it is due to him "that the art's coloring and invention "have been brought to such perfection "that progress is almost impossible. "happy were those who served under him "because all who imitate his art "are sure to succeed in the world, "as those who imitate his virtuous life will be rewarded in heaven."
raphael was the subject of myth in his lifetime-- myth compounded by his dying on a good friday. there were even stories of earthquakes following his death, as on the first good friday. the myth helps to understand how he could be buried here. his own motives come out clearly in his will, in which he leaves money for the restoration of this most perfect survivor from the roman world, desiring to be immortalized within the verery fabric of antiquity which he had helped revive, at once defining his artistic aims and his status. the status of artists had grown during the 14th and 15th centuries, but now suddenly we find them compared with princes. in writers as different as castiglione, aretino, and vasari, we find not only their works, but their private lives the subject of serious consideration. popes tolerate their tantrums.
rich men indulge their whims. in men like raphael, leonardo, and michelangelo, this is the moment when the idea of the artist becomes synonymous with genius. in raphael's transfiguration we see the revolution in painting that he had helped to create. the measured symmetry of 15th-century painting, controlled by strict perspective, had exploded into something infinitely more complex. colors had become more brilliant and various, glowing from out of shadow. gestures had become more expressive. the individuality of the figures had become dramatized by their inner emotions.
this revolution, in artistic ambition as much as in painting, had been inspired by an artist who was an old man when raphael died-- leonardo da vinci. though he was equally mythologized, leonardo's long career was very different from raphael's starry successes. leonardo's story is a catalogue of unprecedented achievement and yet also of incomplete and abandoned projects, no better symbolized than by the sorry state of his mural in milan depicting the last supper of christ. the art historian kathleen weil-garris brandt sees leonardo's frustrated ambition as part of a larger story. most of us have some sort of mental image of leonardo's last supper, and yet, as is true with some other famous artistic projects
of the renaissance, as we approach more closely, we discover that the actual work survives only in part. it's often difficult to reconstruct the artist's intention, to know what the work was to look like, to grasp the setting for which it was created. what remains to us of leonardo's masterpiece is slowly being revealed to us by the painstaking work of conservators here. and yet the painting has suffered so much damage over the centuries that it is bound to remain a ghost of its form%r visual splendor-- compelling, evocative, but also elusive. it makes a poignant visual metaphor for the fragmented image of the renaissance that's come down to us, and it also serves to remind us of the insuperable practical difficulties
that sometimes separated an act of high artistic imagination from its concrete physical realization in actual works of art. with the last supper, the problem was that leonardo had the ambition of developing new methods for wall painting, and from a technical point of view, that turned out to be catastrophic. the painting began to decay as soon as it was finished. in other heroic enterprises, like michelangelo's tomb for pope julius ii or bramante's designs for the new saint peter's, the ambitious scale of the project itself doomed it eventually to incompletion, reduction, or transformation. yet if we look carefully at the fragmented remains of the last supper,
we can discern a complex work. christ sits stable and calm at the center of a storm. the disciples surround him as though rolled back by a burst of energy, each reacting in a different way to the accusation, "one of you shall betray me." the disciples are young and old. they give expression to their feelings, but they also express the idea of the first christian mass. a monk witnessed leonardo at work in the monastery of santa maria delle grazie in milan. "many a time i have seen leonardo "go early in the morning to work "on the platform before the last supper, "and there he would stay, never laying down a brush, "painting without eating or drinking. "then three or four days would pass "without his touching the work, "yet each day he would spend hours examining it
and criticizing the figures to himself." there are very few works still existing which reveal what leonardo did to transform 15th-century painting, yet his influence on subsequent generations was enormous. one of his final paintings, the virgin and saint anne of 1507, reveals some of the qualities which made him so influential. saint anne holds her virgin daughter mary as the infant christ reaches for the lamb of god. leonardo organized these figures into a pyramid of intertwined gestures and forms. he veiled the figures and the landscape beyond in a soft atmospheric haze. muted colors glow out of darkness. the effect is lifelike, yet beyond life, an image of idealized beauty and transcendent love. in his few paintings, leonardo created an ideal,
but his inspiration was closely observed nature. his almost numberless drawings reveal how he expanded the artist's role so it embraced philosophy and science. he described this lifetime project in the most ambitious terms. "the deity which invests the science of the painter "functions in such a way that the mind of the painter "is transformed into a copy of the divine mind. "if the painter wishes to see beauties that charm him, "it lies in his power to create them, "and if he wishes to see monstrosities "that are frightful, ridiculous, or truly pitiable, he is lord and god thereof."
portrait of the artist as a young man. not literally a portrait, but certainly one in spirit. michelangelo was 27 when he started to carve the figure of david for his home city of florence. he portrayed the confidence of a young conqueror, yet also revealed self-doubt, perhaps the self-doubt of an artist with heroic ambition. if leonardo was ahead of his times, michelangelo was supremely a man of his times. from the very beginning, he found himself at the center of power and influence. the project to create a colossus of marble had been under way since the early 15th century, and the block from which michelangelo's david was quarried was brought down from carrara in the 1460s. several attempts were made to have the block carved, but they all came to naught.
it was, in fact, the first monumental freestanding male nude carved in marble since antiquity. michelangelo himself is a david who confronts the gigantic challenge of the marble that no one has been able successfully to carve. originally, michelangelo's david was to have been placed on a buttress of florence cathedral, but by the time the david was complete, it was clear to everyone at once that this was a miracle of art, as it was called in its own time-- a kind of achievement that should be integrated in the florentine body politic in its broadest sense.
now, david is the young biblical hero who, against all the odds, manages to overcome the armed giant goliath, so david is the metaphor for the miraculous victory of right over might. so it's no surprise to us that florence should throughout its history have seen itself as a david among the city-states, maintained against its powerful enemies because of its righteousness. in 1873, the florentine city fathers decided to bring michelangelo's david indoors from the piazza della signoria here to this museum, the accademia. later a copy was put up on the site,
but michelangelo's sculpture itself here was deprived of its original role as a civic guardian and was redefined more narrowly, more exclusively as a work of art. other sculptures by michelangelo were also gathered here as if to bring together a sort of secular shrine to the great florentine, but this historical happenstance gives us the opportunity to look at michelangelo from a different perspective, to look at his unfinished works, sculptures that he was forced to abandon for a variety of reasons entirely beyond his control. michelangelo had a very unusual way of approaching the block of marble when it came from the quarry. this is the skin of the stone as it has been prepared by the quarry master and michelangelo began cutting from the front face only,
moving in, layer by layer, into the stone as though he were carving a relief. or, as his contemporary says, it's as though a wax model were being lifted out of a bath of water. obviously, the forms that are closest to us emerge first from the marble. this technique or system had two advantages. first, it meant that michelangelo could organize the composition of his figure of the pose on one plane, as though it were a picture, and keep visual control of it as he carved inward through the block. it also meant that the process of design-- the creative process of changing his mind-- could continue while he was actually carrying out the statue, working it in the stone. michelangelo abandoned the matthew sculpture in 1505 when he was summoned to rome by the new pope,
julius ii. pope julius demanded a tomb which would match the majesty of his self-image. michelangelo's original design was for a freestanding pyramid of marble, with tier upon tier of life-size figures-- so ambitious a design that many artists would need many years to make it real. only one figure on the tomb, completed 30 years later, carries the original idea's force... the figure of moses. vasari calls michelangelo terribile, speaks often of his terribilita, which is a word that really has no precise equivalent in english, but one is talking about a kind of awe-inspiring power of temperament. and this same word-- terribilita-- was also used to describe pope julius ii. there is no doubt that artist and pope met their match in each other, and it's always been felt--
there's a kind of undercurrent of feeling-- that although the moses is in no sense a portrait of julius ii, that it is an evocation, precisely, of that terribilita that artist and pope shared. michelangelo was bullied by julius to abandon the tomb and instead to paint the ceiling of he sistine chapel. this was part julius' grand design for a new vatican. however reluctant he was, however much he complained, between 1508 and 1512, michelangelo created one of the boldest and one of the largest paintings in history. monumental figures act out the biblical drama from the creation to the flood,
framed by figures still more monumental. the human body became as mh the subject of michelangelo's painting as it was of his sculpture. pope julius had neither armies nor canon enough to influence europe as he might wish, but in the vatican, he could present an image of papal power to impress all comers. the story is told that raphael was mightily impressed when he was smuggled in to see the unfinished sistine ceiling by the architect of the new saint peter's, bramante. certainly, in the decorations of the pope's library, which raphael was painting at the same time, there is a figure answering to michelangelo's description. there's evidence the figure was added later than the others, and its style seems a tribute to his rival's style.
the school of athens, in a setting which evokes bramante's designs for saint peter's, is part of a sophisticated presentation of abstract ideas-- in this case, the ideas of philosophy expressed in human form. plato points towards heaven, aristotle towards the earth. to the left, mathematics is personified by pythagoras, surrounded by inquiring minds. to the right, euclid-- portrayed in the guise of raphael's friend bramante-- demonstrates the principles of geometry. behind them, raphael shows himself staring out at the spectator. the artist stands proud in the company of philosophers. on the facing wall is the disputa, raphael's depiction of theology. at the center, beneath the christian trinity,
is the bread of christ symbolizing his body-- god made flesh. contemporary churchmen engage in debate with religious figures from all ages. on the side walls of the pope's library are representations of justice and literature. the christian and pagan worlds are brought together without conflict. the classical god apollo is surrounded by his muses. they preside over the ancient writers-- sappho, virgil, homer, and the almost contemporary, dante. [kathleen weil-garris brandt] there is a continuity between the golden age of antiquity and the new golden age that julius ii was attempting to generate in his own papal rome. we know that he saw himself as the ecclesiastical, the churchly successor
to the emperors of ancient rome. you can imagine that people who came here and saw the pope here came away with a very strong feeling of the church's unity, power, wisdom, and wealth-- perhaps something of an ideal projection rather than a celebration of fact. it was not only popes who wished to place themselves in the tradition of antiquity. agostino chigi was banker to pope julius and his successor, pope leo. consequently one of europe's richest men, he persuaded raphael to decorate his new villa on the banks of the tiber. raphael created the illusion of two canopies
to protect chigi's guests from the heat of the day. the gods dined above while the guests dined below, tossing their golden plates over the riverbank. chigi, by the way, kept servants below so the plates could be recovered. mercury, the god of money, presided over this splendid party and thus gave the pleasures of the flesh more elevated status. but the party-- metaphorical and actual-- did not last for long. vasari wrote... "raphael kept up his secret love affairs "and pursued his pleasures with no sense of moderation. "and then, on one occasion, he went to excess. "he returned home afterwards with a violent fever
"which the doctors diagnosed as heat stroke. "raphael kept quiet about his incontinence, "and, very imprudently, "instead of giving him the restoratives he needed, "they bled him until he grew faint "and felt himself sinking. so, he made his will." [kathleen weil-garris brandt] in one year, they were all dead. agostino chigi and raphael died within a month of each other. in 1521, the next year, leo x was dead, and with him, the hedonistic culture of their age. [bells ringing] the grand presentations of papal rome had masked the declining power of papal authority-- religious, political, and military. in 1527, italy was invaded by an imperial army from north of the alps.
rome was sacked. pietro aretino described the traumatic events. "screams rose to high heaven. "doors were beaten in. "the whole population took to its heels, "weeping and trying to hide. "blood flowed over the pavements. "people were being slaughtered. the tortured shrieked. "prisoners begged for mercy. women tore their hair. "it was pitiful to see fire consuming gilded lodgers and painted palaces." michelangelo's last judgement, painted in the 1530s on the wall beneath the sistine ceiling, evokes a new mood of retribution. rome did revive, of course, and the papacy gained new strength for its fight with reformation. michelangelo continued with his monumental projects. he became architect of saint peter's. he reworked the language of classical architecture into a massive, sculptural style. he was commissioned to rebuild the civic square of rome,
the piazza campidoglio. on a hill above the forum, he created a classical frame for the medieval city hall-- a stage for the drama of politics. as he had with saint peter's, michelangelo used a bold reworking of classical architecture and integrated ancient statues into his design. throughout his life as architect and artist, michelangelo had stayed at the center of power-- a turbulent force in turbulent times. but there is anoth journey in his life as an artist which became increasingly important to him-- a journey equally heroic, equally mythic, but private. it's revealed in his intimate productions-- in his letters, in his sonnets and sketches. and it takes him away from this public stage
into his inner life-- questioning the artist's role and indeed the very nature of art itself. in his final years, michelangelo wrote a profoundly personal sonnet. "in a frail boat, "through stormy seas, "my life in its course "has now reached the harbor, "the bar of which all men must cross "to render account of good and evil done. "i now know how weighted in error "was the fond fantasy which made art for me "an idol and a king,
"and how mistaken that earthly love "which all men seek. "what of those thoughts of love, once light and gay, "as towards two deaths i move? "one is certain. the other menaces. "no brush, no chisel quietens the soul "once turned to the divine love of he who stretches out his arms upon the cross." [kathleen weil-garris brandt] michelangelo had excavated into the block so deeply, had changed his ideas about the design so many times, that there simply may not have been enough marble left for him to complete any of the images that are suggested all at once in the stone. michelangelo probably wouldn't have seen the rondonini pieta as a work of art, but it does show his unceasing attempts,
this most illustrious and noble city. none other is more famous for the immensity of its glory, the wisdom of its government, the long duration of its rule, or for other features worthy of praise-- the matchless convenience of its admirable buildings, the wealth of incredible riches, its numberless subjects, the industry of excellent men, the infinite variety of its possessions, the divine institutions of the republic, the immortal value of its nobles. "you venetians are wrong "to disturb the peace of italy "and not to rest content with your fine state. "if you knew how everyone hates you,
your hair would stand on end." in the 16th century, venice was a city of spectacle and rhetoric, of theater and illusion. it saw itself as an ideal city, as the modern culmination of the ancient city-state with its good life, its humane values, its sense of play, even. and it dramatized itself as an ideal city, both for its own inhabitants and for the world outside. this civic drama was acted out through processions, ceremonies, and spectacle, and through art and architecture, but this grand illusion, whose stage was the city itself, was founded in reality. by the 1500s, venice claimed 1,000 years of history